The Origins of Zoroastrian Priesthood in India

By Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram, 

Panthaky, Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff Daremeher, Jogeshwari, Mumbai.

All Parsi priests of India draw their origin from Mobed Shahpur Mobed Sheriar, who is believed to be one of the Ashavan level priests [see my earlier posts as to what an Ashavan level person means] who brought the original Parsis to India by boat, the other being Mobed Hormuzdiar Ervad Ramiyar, both under the guidance of Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval, who was the leader of the contingent of nearly 2000 men women and children.

A few years after the landing in Sanjan (whose date is disputed till today), the Iranshah was consecrated by these Ashavan level priests, along with the help of numerous other priests as well as lay Parsi artisans of various classes. [see earlier post by my friend Kaizad Keravala showing this from the Kisseh-i-Sanjan]. These were the true Priests and authorised servants of the sacred Iranshah Atash Behram and they and their descendants continued with their service for nearly 500 years in Sanjan.

As the Parsi population increased and shifted to nearby villages, the need for Parsi priests in these areas also increased. One of the prominent towns where Parsis settles was the village of Nagamandal, later on named as Navsari by the Parsi inhabitants. The first Parsi Priest to arrive in Navsari was Zarthosht Mobad, along with his son Kamdin Zarthosht in around 1142 AD. [Readers may note that the custom of taking surnames was NOT prevalent at that time, and priests were called along with their father’s name]. Please note that Zarthosht Mobad was a DIRECT DESCENDANT of Mobed Hormuzdiar Ramiyar who had landed in Sanjan about 200 years ago.  [The lineage is Zarthosht – Mobad – Hormuzdiar – Ramiyar.] Zarthosht Mobad continued to serve the Iranshah as per the rotation of duties amongst the priestly families of Sanjan at that time.

Another brother of Zarthosht Mobad, name Mobad [this practice of naming the son after the grandfather is the major cause of confusion in genealogical and historical dates!] also left Sanjan and settled in Bharuch and is the ancestor of all Bharuch descendant priests.

As the Parsi population of Navsari grew, the need for another priest was felt. Accordingly, in 1215 AD, Zarthosht Mobad and his son Kamdin Zarthosht invited another of their colleagues in Sanjan called Hom Bahmaniar to Navsari. Hom Bahmaniar traced his lineage from Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval in the following manner [Hom – Bahmaniar – Khurshed – Bahmaniar – Khojasta – Khushmasta – Mobad – Nairyosangh – Dhaval]. Another brother of Hom, called Hormuzdiar Bahmaniar continued to stay in Sanjan.

As the workload of these Priests in Navsari increased, they found it difficult to also give Boi to the Iranshah at their designated turns. They hence VOLUNTARILY gave up their right to give Boi at Iranshah, although they were directly descended from the very families of the priests who consecrated Iranshah. Thus the two families of Zarthosht Mobad, along with his son Kamdin, and his son Mobad (again confusion!) on one hand, and Hom Bahmaniar and his son Faredun and grandsons Asa, Mahiar and Chanda formed the bedrock of the Navsari Parsi priesthood. Over a period of time, these formed into 5 specific groups, called POLS, and the work of the entire town was divided amongst the five POLS in a unique and harmonious way such that each family got to perform every ceremony during the entire yearly cycle. The income from all these ceremonies was shared in specific parts (Gujarati ‘Bhag’) by the POLS and hence they became known as BHAGARIAS, i.e. those who share (their earnings).

As the years passed, Sanjan was attacked by the  Muslim army in 1465, the Iranshah was shifted by the descendants of the Sanjan priests (including the families of the descendants of the brother of Hom of Navsari called Hormuzdiar, son of Bahmaniar, who had continued to stay in Sanjan) to Bahrot where it stayed for 14 years till the great Changa Asa of Navsari persuaded the priests of Sanjan staying in utter hardship at Bahrot to bring the Iranshah to Navsari. Accordingly, in around 1475 (dates still not decided) the Iranshah was brought to Navsari by the descendants of Hormuzdiar Bahmaniar, called Khurshed Kamdin (going back as Khurshed – Kamdin – Nagoj – Dhanpal – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar) Nagan Ram (going back as Nagan – Ram – Hamjiar – Cama – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar) and Chaiya Shaer (going back as Chaiya – Shaer – Hamjiar – Cama – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar). These three form the basis for the 9 Udvada families today.

As per the agreement between the Bhagaria Mobeds and the three Mobed families accompanying Iranshah, the right to perform ALL CEREMONIES except Boi of Iranshah was THE EXCLUSIVE DOMAIN OF BHAGARIA MOBEDS. Even the ceremonies of the family members of the Iranshah Mobeds were to be performed solely by the Bhagaria Mobeds. Thus for over 200 years, all Bareshnums, Nirangdin ceremonies as well as the very Navar and Maratab ceremonies of all the Sanjan priestly families were performed by Bhagaria Mobeds. In this time period, as the family size of the Sanjana priests increased, they found it difficult to sustain themselves merely on the income of the Boi of Iranshah. They thus broke the sacred agreement their forefather had made with the Bhagaria priests and started performing the ceremonies of their own household by themselves, and thus emboldened, even started doing ceremonies of some Behdins by themselves. This was the germination of the controversies, fights, even murders amongst the Priests and finally the Sanjana Mobeds left with Iranshah to Valsad and thereafter to Udvada.

In short, there is a misrepresentation going around the community that the 9 Udvada families were only involved in the consecration of Iranshah, which as is seen from above is absurd as all the other Panths also draw their origin from the original Sanjana Mobeds who landed in Sanjan and consecrated Iranshah nearly 1300 years ago. The Bhagaria, Surti, Bharucha and other Mobedi tolas ALL owe their origin to the 3 great forefathers – Shahpur Sheriar, Hormuzdiar Ramiyar and Nairyosangh Dhaval from whose descendants they have come out of. No one Mobedi Tola has any superiority over the other as is being claimed today. If anything the 9 Udvada families owe a great debt of gratitude to Changa Asa and the Bhagaria Mobeds for their rescue and stay in Navsari for over 300 years.

  • Delnavaz

    Thanks Ervard Hathiram for your beutiful article. Our forefathers were willing to sacrifice everything to safeguard their religion. It is because they remained faithful to the tenets of our religion, that we the Parsis, a miniscule community could achieve so much.
    I have heard about the hardships the Parsis endured while living in the Bahrot caves. It would be great if you could give us some information/stories about the events that took place in those caves.
    thanks

  • Zubin

    Dear Ervad Hathriam,
    I have been tracing my family history for a number of years and have it going as far back as Neryosang Dhaval. Your info in this article helped me add more descendents of Bhamanyar that i did not have.
    I wonder if there is any document or information about the descendents of Khurshed Kamdin, Chaiya Shaer and Nagan Ram?

  • Does this past controversy have any relevance in 21st Century. Does the community needs such artificial divide in current circumsances?

  • farzana

    Kya emotional atyachaar!! But the irony is after openly displaying pyromania, parsees will still take offence when they are called fire worshippers.

  • The above article is an indication that our community is renowned for fissparous tendencies which plagued us in the past and the present generation wants to perpetuate this ‘tradition’. For them consensus and mutual respect for each others views is alien. Dwindling numbers do not worry them but create controversies they must.

  • farzana

    Anti-Dhongi,
    It appears that these ervads and vada dastoors think of themselves as ‘un-crowned kings’of the community. They take upon themselves to decide for the community what is right or wrong and most of the time their decisions not only contradicts the religious scriptures it also contradicts their own decisions taken in past. Obviously that leaves everyone confused…and community with zillion divisions.
    Ney it doesn’t bother our self appointed kings of the community one bit… as long as they get their way in the community.

  • An unchartable rumor is going around that one such “High” priest recently got his knee joint operation performed by a foreign based Surgeon specially flown to Mumbai, courtesy an industrial house,whose scion was inducted into our faith late in life.
    And irony is that the sycophants of these ‘High’ priest claim that they are ‘guiding’ our Community!

  • farzana

    A-D, im not wee bit surprised… though its ironical that 3,000 years ago Zarathustra complained of corrupt and pleasure loving priests who seduced by power and wealth, used fear of Gods amongst the naive masses to promote their self interests. 3,000 years hence nothing has changed!

  • puff

    As usual empty vessels make the most noise. I am referring to the last 4 posts above of Farzana, Dhongee, Piloo. Cant they appreciate anything related to religious hirechacy ? Must they always pass comments and taunts ?

    What has happened is history. If you can apply yourself, put in an effort to do something positive, come out with it or else keep your trap shut.

  • Rational but Religious.

    ‘else keep your trap shut’ Ha, A Communal Emergency declared by a LEAKING VESSEL.
    When logic fails these type of “Orders” prevail as if they emanate from an “Authority”.Why, because they can not convincingly reply.
    As for the remark ‘If anything the 9 Udvada families owe a great debt of gratitude to Changa Asa and the Bhagaria Mobeds for their rescue and stay in Navsari for over 300 years’ let Udwada’s Nine families confirm the same and concede that ‘no one Mobedi Tola has any superiority over the other as is being claimed today’.
    Lastly, and most importantly, persond like Puf who want monoploy of keeping their traps perpetually open (which trap, I do not wish to guess) should ponder over a post that has appeared in Mumbai Samachar of 14th ‘Kotvals Convenience’ before pompously ‘ordering’ others to cease thinking. If persons like Puff can not reply, with reasoning letters like one that appeared in M.S.referred above, it would be confirmed that likes of him/her are seized with mental paralysis. And if I mistake not, sometime back, it was this same person who asked a ‘innocent’ question ‘ who is curbing others from expressing themseves’. Fascist detested democracy and freesom of speech and in what way you and two others (constituting a ‘majority’) have any democratic values?
    We would enjoy if the priestly class quarrel over such issues as to who is superior as that would indicate their priorities. For persons like me, such issues are wholly IRRELEVANT in present times. Yes Mr/Ms. Puff -enjoy your ‘glorious past and forget the present’.As for future free Papri Malido and Stum food available to priestly class will take care of needs of these constituency.

  • Religious but Rational.

    Am Puff,
    What ‘poistive’ contribution you intend to make by raising this controversy in 21st Century, would you care to elaborate?
    Is the issue of any relevance in the context of problems being faced by the community in 2010?

  • piloo

    Now, somebody labeled Puff rhymes strangely with Bluff) is dragging me and calling me an empty vessel, perhaps on the behalf of somebody whose adjectives and foul language at last got exhausted. Yes Puff or whosoever you are, HOW DO the contents of my post dated the 18th October 2009 – offend anybody?
    My post reads as under:
    “Does this past controversy have any relevance in 21st Century. Does the community needs such artificial divide in current circumstances”
    What exactly is ‘NEGATIVE’ in the contents of my post, would you care to state?
    You have yourself stated that ‘what has happened is history’ and that is precisely what I too mentioned a few months back? So where is the ‘taunt’ in my post, may I know?
    I am pained to remark that you too seem to be interested in castigating others for the sake of reading your name on the blog. Or is it manifestation of frustration to discuss in a dignified manner that you direct other to keep their ‘trap shut’. Why may I ask?
    And what divine or legal authority you have to ask others not to discuss?
    It is this attitude that makes persons like me more determined to express and expose double dealers who never cease to amuse.
    I have avoided using harsh language in the past but now I believe time has come to take on the bluff masters in their own style.
    Rushing to the keyboard of a desktop without reading the contents of others seems to have become a pastime of Faltoos

  • NEMESIS.

    To R but R.
    Dear Sir,/Madam,
    Cool it. Lexicons of some persons (particularly from vernacular medium) is limited to words like’Get out’ ‘Shut Up,’ ‘Thank You’. Treat the sentence “keep your trap shut’ as a compliment from those who are desperate and defeated who can not measure up to the level of standards of Rationalists like you,in deliberating issues. The portal is meant for exchange of views but some want that their version alone should be published and that none should differ. It is a sign of a school teacher mentality, a person unable to face inconvenient facts and assumes that if his opposition is silenced, he can freely hoodwink the remaining.
    One issue that demands an explanation is that why this topic from Archives was reopened up after 4 months of its original publication.

  • Anti-Dhongidox.

    Jokes aside, the Community must demand an equivalent of a Pope and the Community must abide by the interpretation of such a High Priest in all spheres. The electoral college would be the Athornan Mandal.
    Let the contestants enter into a public debate and then the community can watch the ultimate FUN.

  • puff

    Wow ! Three musketeers have already responded to my simple, short and sweet post. All I said was if you guys have nothing to say, dont open ur mouth for the sake of opening it . I have gone through all your fancy posts sprinkled with the usual taunting and none of them make any sense to me, sorry for being so blunt. The topic of discussion was Origins of Priesthood and none of your posts bear any relevance to the topic. Either you agree / disagree with the views of the author or simply cannot understand the contents.

    Parsi Khabar will not terminate your membership if you stop posting for one day or 15 days. So cool it, if you have nothing substantial to contribute keep mum and dont bring in High priests and their knee operations into the picture. Talk to the point and on the topic. Nobody wants to listen to sensless banter. We have better things to do, than read this childish exchange after a hard day’s work. Think positive so that you can contribute positively and if you have nothing better to say or are unemployed / retired, get yourself some social work to keep yourself busy. It is said “Never Argue With An Idiot, first he will lower u till his level and then beat u with his experience.”, which is why I always judge the IQ of the opposite party before I discuss.

  • Bitter Truth.

    I am in agreement with NEMESIS. I too am puzzled why this old topic has been revived again by Puff after more than four months. The intention seems to be other than entering into a genuine debate.There are two possibilities.
    One to divert the attention from more serious and pressing problems faced by the community by raising irrelevant controversy.
    The second possibility was to just criticize Anti -Dhongidox, Piloo,Farzana R but R and others just for the sake of it more out of exasperation since these 4/5 bloggers have proved to be virtually invincible with their lucid and convincing arguments and have made life of so called Saviours difficult than these ‘savours’ had imagined. These Saviours thought it was a cake walk to take the community for a ride but the liberals and moderates have proved their mettle beyond doubt.
    Now I too believe that this blog is being used for purposes other than bonafide &genuine discussions and to know the views of differing camps.

  • piloo.

    Puff:
    First you have to justify about the need for raising this irrelevant issue at present time.
    Secondly, as rightly pointed out by Bitter Truth, why this Topic was reopened after 4 months;
    Thirdly, your remark:”Nobody wants to listen to sensless banter”, is read but not understood. The Word NOBODY implies many individuals. ONE BEHALF OF HOW MANY INDIVIDUALS HAVE YOU UTTERED “NOBODY ” wants to listen to senseless banter” In Short, what is your representative capacity.
    Fourthly, you have overlooked to mention your “POSITIVE” contribution by raising this Topic.
    Lastly, I fully agree with your quote ““Never Argue With An Idiot, first he will lower u till his level and then beat u with his experience.”, I will practice this ‘saying’. For that reason this will be my last reply.

  • piloo.

    NEMESIS & BITTER TRUTH:
    Many thanks for your posts. It is enlightened persons like you whose encouragement and analytical inputs which are a source of solace for those with Grey matter.
    If you read the two Post of the self labelled intellectual, you will observe that on the 18th instant in the morning he/she says that “What has happened is history” and in less than 24 hours considers the topic of relevance. So much for the consistency of self proclaimed intellectual (!) proficient in quoting 19th century ‘sayings’.
    Yes, dear Bitter Truth, such messages are indeed manifestations of frustrated minds who are themselves without avenues of vocation, gainful or otherwise, liberally advising others without taking time to stand before the mirror in their own residence.

  • piloo.

    Puff:
    First you have to justify about the need for raising this irrelevant issue at present time.
    Secondly, as rightly pointed out by Bitter Truth, why this Topic was reopened after 4 months;
    Thirdly, your remark:”Nobody wants to listen to sensless banter”, is read but not understood. The Word NOBODY implies many individuals. ONE BEHALF OF HOW MANY INDIVIDUALS HAVE YOU UTTERED “NOBODY ” wants to listen to senseless banter” In Short, what is your representative capacity.
    Fourthly, you have overlooked to mention your “POSITIVE” contribution by raising this Topic.
    Lastly, I fully agree with your quote ““Never Argue With An Idiot, first he will lower u till his level and then beat u with his experience.”, I will practice this ’saying’. For that reason this will be my last ARGUMENT with you.

  • Farzana

    Guys, the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.

  • Anti – Dhongidox

    Yeah Farzana,
    Mr. Nobody deludes himself into believing that he represents everybody. Wonder why he strains his/her eyes reading our messages if they make no sense to him, he can either ignore them or purchase a good Dictionary to comprehend them.

    Just read report in Mumbai Mirror page 2 which adds ‘lustre’ on the repute of our community.
    I wonder why such vigilant groups do not identify Sudreh Kusti wearing Bawas standing in line at Novenas/ Mount Mary and Sai Mandirs and place a ban on such multi faith Parsees from entering Parsee places of worship. And I am genuinely serious.
    Compared to such Dhongi multi faith Bawas, one must appreciate that Mirza and Madon perform Zoroastrian religious rituals and their patrons are at-least sincere and serious followers of one religion unlike multi-faith bawas.

  • Cyrus

    Type your comment here…Hey Farzana,
    Still batting for Bertrand Russell. Nice to see you on patrol with your night-Stick :))

  • TRUE ORTHODOX ZOROASTRIAN.

    Those who huff and Puff when thoroughly exposed,resort to advising others to take up social work, scarcely realising that creating awareness among the community members about what is right and what is fallacious falls in the category of social work. And by the way, this Huff and Puff does not provide food, clothing and shelter to intelligent bloggers and therefore has no business to advise what somebody should do to occupy herself or himself.
    Further,who compels Huff and Puff and his GURUS to read what others state in their messages. Inadvertently he /she exposes that what the thinking section puts up is not palatable to a bigoted mind as it is incontrovertible and therefore expects others to write what would be music to his/her ears. SORRY HUFF & PUFF, ALL DO NOT MORTGAGE THEIR MINDS. There is something called upbringing and liberal education which is known only to those whose academic life is not curtailed at lower secondary School level.

    Before concluding, somebody from the Saviour camp recently said that “So far the Traditionals have always been kind, courteous, peaceful and dignified in their comments and criticisms toward……” HOW TRUE -Calling those whose views are at variance with those of irrational with words like ‘idiots’ ‘keep your trap shut’ are classic examples of kindness/courtesy/peaceful nature/dignity.?????
    LASTLY AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, HAS IT EVER
    OCCURRED TO YOU AND YOUR GURUS THAT IF YOUR SIDE STOPS BLOGGING THEIR “RELIGIOUS” VIEWS, YOUR
    OPPONENTS WILL BE LEFT WITH NOTHING TO CONTRADICT YOU AND EXPOSE SHALLOWNESS OF YOUR “KNOWLEDGE”

  • puff

    @piloo —- First you have to justify about the need for raising this irrelevant issue
    Who do you think you are, a BPP chairman or a High Priest of St. Petersburg ? What makes you think I will “justify” my stand with the likes of you. You seem to be off your rocker. You and your tiny team of Nemesis/Bitter truth/RnR etc are equal to the dust beneath my shoe. I cannot stoop to such a low level to even correspond, but am penning these few lines, so that the other bloggers out here know my stand. Bitter Truth has given two possibilities, you may give some more. I will then decide whether any of you are close to the mark. Until then I am enjoying the attention and honour you guys are showering me with.

  • Yes you have displayed your true class to which you belong.
    Left speechless and dumbfounded, unable to reply cohesively now seeking refuge in penning foul language at all and sundry.
    “What makes you think I will “justify”. Yes you have no calibre to discuss issues-thats why.
    Forget justifying, in fact you CAN NOT GIVE REPLY TO EVEN ONE QUESTION POSED TO YOU.You do not suffer from superiority complex as you want to portray but are a victim of inferiority complex at being helpless in discussing in a civised manner
    And if you consider contempt and pity as ‘attention,and honour’, you richly deserve the former.

  • NEMESIS

    The word BRAVERY just got a new meaning.
    SOURCE: a certain Shree. T.H.F. (Totally Humiliated – Flabbergasted.)
    His meaning of Bravery is “Fleeing/ Running away from the field midway.”
    May the Almighty provide such individuals with company of intellectuals.

    Q.E.D..